Atacama Crossing - Summary

Here's a recap of all the Atacama Crossing material from my race last month. I have most of the pictures from friends and the official photographer on my blog and a few other links to the results and videos from the race.

Racing to V at the finish. (Source: Argi)

My race reports from each stage:

Atacama Crossing - Stage 1
Atacama Crossing - Stage 2
Atacama Crossing - Stage 3
Atacama Crossing - Stage 4
Atacama Crossing - Stage 5
Atacama Crossing - Stage 6

Official results, photos and videos from RacingthePlanet:

Official results
Race photographs
Race videos

My gear reports:

Before the race
Post race report

My finishers' medal and my trophy for winning the 20 to 29 year age group:

Atacama Crossing on our Team 505 blog

V put up some new photos and the finish video of the Atacama Crossing on our brilliant Team 505 blog!

Atacama Crossing - Stage 6

4th place

Stage six was a fantastic day! We all knew that it would be short and fast and that there was pizza waiting for us at the end. After a week in the desert eating freeze-dried meals, which were the same two or three flavors for the whole week, thoughts of fresh food were the talk of the camp. The final stage started later than the other days, at 10 o'clock, so there was a little extra time to pack and get ready for the day. Everyone was taking photos with new friends and tent mates and the spirit of camp was light and excited.

Tent 7 before the last day (Source: Yasuhiro Yomota)

We started running in the dry, salt-covered river bed where we ended stage five, but quickly turned onto a dirt road that was flat and fast. The route led downwards from the Valley of the Moon to San Pedro and it was great running at the best pace I would do all week. I was in a group of four about a minute behind the leading four.

The last section of salt in a long salty race! (Source: Yasuhiro Yomota)

After three and a half kilometers we crossed the river and turned into the town of San Pedro. The final kilometers of the Atacama Crossing were along beautiful tree-lined streets and I could almost taste the pizza at the finish. Mark and I were running together again, we had moved ahead of the other two in our group and we caught Massi (Italy) who was running in 4th about a kilometer from the finish. Massi and I ran together many times during the previous few days and he promised to beat me in at least one stage and almost did it on the last day!

Tree lined streets of San Pedro - almost there! (Source: Yasuhiro Yomota)

Mark and I finished together which was a fantastic way to end the race as we had been close most of the week. The most exciting part of the final day was seeing Vanessa who was waiting for me at the finish line! She was so excited, was shouting for me to sprint the last few hundred meters, and I could see her standing in front of everyone else just across the finish line. I was pleased to be done, happy that it was a short day and glad to finish 4th on the last stage.

Almost done! (Source: 4Deserts)

Racing with fellow Zimbabwean Mark (Source: 4Deserts)

Atacama Crossing - Stage 5

9th place

Stage five was the long day of 73km. I think that everyone started out with the idea that getting through this day would be very important and basically the end of the race as all that would be left was the short final stage. The first 30km were on dirty roads, flat and easy running. I set out at a pace that I thought I could maintain for the day. This put me a little further back in the field as there were some competitors who started off very strongly. I went through the first two checkpoints in around 15th place.

Water refill during the long stage (Source: 4Deserts)

Still running strong in the first 30km (Source: 4Deserts)

After checkpoint 2 we went off the road and into more desert, sand-like conditions. I kept the pace even and that helped me move forward in the field. I didn't change anything during this period of running and all that I needed was not to slow down. I was feeling strong and enjoying the challenge. I arrived at the next checkpoint in about 12th and running well.

We then headed into some salt flats and unlike the previous days, where I didn't enjoy the salt sections, I was feeling great and running consistently in that terrain. I caught up to three people and ran with Steven (Belgium) over the rough ground which seemed unreal after a few days of running and walking in the salt. We caught Mark (Zimbabwe) and arrived at the massive dune together. From a distance the dune looked very intimidating, but when we actually got to it the sand was much more firm than it appeared previously and we could climb it at a slow walking pace.

At the top of the dune was the most spectacular landscape I saw all week. It was more salt flats, but it looked like a choppy sea or some type of lunar landscape. The crests of all the salt waves were hard and in between it was soft. It wasn't easy running, but it was breathtakingly beautiful and that made things a little easier. This was only a short section and we descended to checkpoint four on another dune. It was a long section between the two checkpoints and I had finished my water. I was also about to start another long section in what would be the hottest part of the day.

More salt flats, this time between 30km and 40km (Source: Yasuhiro Yomota)

A massive sand dune to climb at 40km (Source: Yasuhiro Yomota)

Unbelievable lunar landscape above the dunes (Source: Eric Rohnacher)

A fast, fun descent to CP4 (Source: Eric Rohnacher)

At the checkpoint I loaded up with water and set out with a plan to keep a consistent pace like I had done in the earlier part of the day. This didn't last very long! I was not strong at all during this unending 14km section between checkpoints 4 and 5. Mark and Steven ran ahead of me and I could only watch them get away as I struggled with the heat and probably because I had not eaten enough food during the first part of the day. Only thinking about it now I realize that the salt flats and dune leading to the 40km mark where I ran out of water set up my trouble during the next section.

It was a flat part of the course along a winding river with us running through each of the corners and passing in and out the dry river bed. There was no wind and some salt in places and the heat was unbearable. I was despondent and unhappy about what had happened and the direction the day was taking. In addition to that my feet started swelling, or at least I noticed that my feet had swollen, and that added to the discomfort. I plodded along, running and walking, and only kept in mind the goal of getting to the next checkpoint. When I finally made it to checkpoint five I was overjoyed. I sat down, took the insoles out of my shoes, drank some extra water and drank a small caffeinated energy drink. The best thing about the checkpoints was that you felt like you could start again from zero. No matter what had happened before the checkpoint it was possible to be a different runner after it. So I left checkpoint five running strong.

Long, hard running in the worst part of the day for me (Source: Joel Meredith)

A winding river bed that felt it like it would never end (Source: Joel Meredith)

The distance between checkpoints five and six was boring. It was about 9km, all on a slight incline and with only two bends in the road. We could see kilometers ahead and that it was all uphill. I ran really strongly in this section and could see myself catching up to the runners ahead. It was amazing to be running strongly again and the miles flew by. I arrived at the next checkpoint feeling good and ready to keep on running.

The last part of the day was to the camp in Valley of the Moon. It was a climb and then rolling ups and downs for the final kilometers. I ran up the hill at a good rhythm and caught up to Mark. We ran together for a while, but in the last three kilometers we were completely finished. Mark had run out of energy, probably from not eating enough along the way, and my legs were absolutely fried. We walked in the last few kilometers and enjoyed having some company and getting to the end of a long, hot and challenging stage. We were in 9th and 10th positions and those would be our final positions at the end of the race.

Taking it easy after the long day (Source: Yasuhiro Yomota)

It was a huge relief to be finished and know that all that lay ahead was 10km of running and that after a rest day. I soaked my feet in the medical tent, attended to my blisters which had grown during the day and got an early night's sleep. The rest day was long. I slept a lot, sent a long email and ate all the food I had left. Matias had told me it would be like a war camp and he was right. There were a lot of very sore people sleeping and lying around. However, I felt a sense of relief and joy in the camp that we were almost done.

Atacama Crossing - Stage 4

14th place

After stage three I was very happy as I had finished strongly and in a great position. I wanted to continue running strongly and started out with that in mind. The first part of the day was through rolling, rocky dunes and eventually came out at a small town where the first checkpoint was located. I thought that I had been running well and was in about 5th or 6th position when I reached the checkpoint. I stopped to empty some sand out of my shoes and a whole group of about 7 runners came in and most went through the checkpoint faster than me.

The next section was completely flat over sandy desert. It was great running and one of the only places in the race where we could settle into a rhythm and run. I moved to the head of the group with Xavi (Spain) and we ran very well together. This section was long and hot and I was really looking forward to the next checkpoint which never got any closer. I took my time again at the checkpoint, this time filling up with extra water as I knew that the infamous salt flats were coming up next. In the checkpoint, the group who I thought we had moved ahead of started to roll in and most of us left together.

About to head into 10km of thick, muddy salt flats (Source: 4Deserts)

Next we moved into the salt flats. I was going well and pleased with how I was running, but the salt flats again sapped my strength. The varied salt would change from being a path that could be run on to crusty salt that was almost impossible for me to run on. I also seemed to walk much slower than the other competitors and this is where I lost a few places during the stage. It was demoralizing to lose places and the heat combined with how much I was beginning to dislike salt flats put me in a poor mood. I wanted to finish the stage and kept going with only that in mind. The amazing perspective of the salt flats means that the furthest thing you can see is 6km away so even though I could see a checkpoint and other competitors in front of me they were easily 15 to 20 minutes in front!

Salt flats (Source: Eric Rohnacher)

Salt flats (Source: Eric Rohnacher

At checkpoint three we left the worst of the salt flats and ran along a jeep track road through the flats. It was only three kilometers to the finish and this went by quickly. Again I could almost see the finish, but with an understanding of how far I could see it was not so bad and I could better estimate how far the camp was. I didn't lose any more places and ran all the way to the finish. I finished 14th and lost a little time, but I held my position overall.

Final section of mushy salt before camp (Source: Yasuhiro Yomota)

The best part of the stage was arriving at the finish and learning that there were two large pools of water that we could swim in. The water was so cold and it was an absolute treat to be a little cleaner, a little cooler and to do something different after a day of running. All the camps were great, but this was almost unbelievable!

A beautiful camp with two "swimming pools" (Source: Joel Meredith)

Atacama Crossing - Stage 3

6th place

Stage 3 had a mix of everything and after two tough days of running is generally considered to be one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, of the stages. We all started off together heading into a salt flat that was covered with small bushes and shrubs. It was a strange start as everyone wanted to run, but almost nobody could because of the really difficult terrain. The whole pack was held close together and so I started out with the leaders and managed to stay with them for a good while.

The stage started in tough, bushy salt flats (Source: 4Deserts)

The next section was a sand road and this is where I think the people with previous desert experience showed their skill. It was not too long or difficult, but rolled up and down like a beautiful beach. I dropped off the leaders pace and kept rolling along at my pace slowly catching a few runners and settling into a nice place with Massi (Italy). After the sand we got a slight reprieve as we ran along a well-packed dirt road for 3km or 4km. However, not much later the inevitable happened and the flags led from the road directly into another thick salt flat. I started out running this, but as we approached checkpoint two I was doing a combination of walking and running and a group from behind caught up to me.

Running through rolling dunes between CP1 and CP2 (Source: 4Deserts)

Fortunately the next section after the salt flat was a true dry, hot desert with deep sand. I managed to find a rhythm here running with Jan (Belgium) and slowly catching the group in front of us. I enjoyed the fact that I was catching a few people and we made some good time to checkpoint 3.

Tough slate, sandy section (Source: 4Deserts)

The next part of the day was where most people struggle. It was getting hot and although we could see camp, or what we thought was the camp, there were still 12km to 13km to go. The ground was sandy, but rocky meaning that every step was changing from cushioned ground to hard rock and this made the going very tough. In addition to that we had to cross over three river beds that had steep slopes and climbs back up to the other side. I was walking and running by myself on this stage and when Steven (Belgium) caught up to me I was happy for the company and we worked really well together.

Not too far from the finish! (Source: 4Deserts)

We ran together through the dunes and sand and worked our way towards the finish which we could see, for sure this time, from about 5km out. Every time there was an obvious route to the finish we made a left turn and either ran down a dune, or ran into a river, or along a dry river bed to a massive climb on the other side. After these three left turns, and I guess some curving winding rights, we really were just a few hundred meters from the finish.

Running through the dunes in the last section of the stage (Source: 4Deserts)

Another left turn, this time into a river (Source: Eric Rohnacher)

The finish however, was on the other side of yet another river bed. This time we descended and then had to climb up what seemed like a long, never-ending slope to get to the finish. It was a tough, and yet appropriate, ending to a very tough stage. I finished strong and think that this was one of my best stages of the race. I was extremely pleased to come in 6th, a few seconds behind 5th, and an improvement on previous day's run.

Atacama Crossing - Stage 2

8th place

The leaders starting stage 2 (Source: 4Deserts)

I had a tough day. I started following the top three and went through CP1 in 4th. I was feeling good, but I think that I went out too hard. The first part of the day was climbing from the river flowing through a canyon to the ridge line along the river. The ridge line is visible from San Pedro and really a spectacular place to run. However, it meant that we had to work very hard in the first part of the day as CP1 was the highest point of the day.

Beautiful below the ridge we ran along (Source: Joel Meredith)

Valley of the Dead overlooking San Pedro (Source: Eric Rohnacher)

After running along the ridge we descended towards the road leading to San Pedro. It was a fantastic and fast descent down a beautiful sand dune. I have never run down dunes like that before and really enjoyed how fast and soft it felt. Fortunately we didn't have to climb back up it again! During the sandy section leading into CP2 Bart caught up to me and I ran with him for a short while.

Running in 5th after descending a massive dune (Source: 4Deserts)

Amazing salt structures (Source: Eric Rohnacher)

The next part of the day was one of the longest sections and from a scenery perspective less exciting and amazing than what had already come. We crossed the road and followed another dry river bed while making a circuit close to the town of San Pedro. Unfortunately during this section I struggled and lost Bart and then another place. It didn't get any better either. After a dry sandy section we ran into the first real salt flat section. I didn't like it at all. Every footstep was like plunging your foot into mud and trying to pull it out against the sucking and squelching salt. I lost another few spots along here.

Salt flats leading to Laguna Cejar (Source: Yasuhiro Yomota)

The final part of the day was a short road section to Laguna Cejar. I was just happy to get this stage over and done with and only later took the time to admire the stunning lagoon next to our camp. I came in 8th on the stage, but not too far behind the few people who overtook me late in the day.

Laguna Cejar, the end of Stage 2 (Source: Yasuhiro Yomota)

Atacama Crossing - Stage 1

4th place

Stage 1 started at a very fast pace with Matias (Chile) leading out the pack for the first few kilometres. After the group had settled into a more reasonable pace I was sitting in 5th position behind Vicente (Spain), David (Spain), Argiris (Greece) and Bart (Belgium). I followed this leading pack, but when I felt the pace was too fast for me I slowed to my original race plan and aimed to hold a speed that I could maintain for longer than just the first part of the first day.

The fast start of stage 1 (Source: 4Deserts)

The pack starting to string out. That's me in the front! (Source: 4Deserts)

In the middle section of the race I caught and then ran with Bart. We held a strong pace and managed to keep each other running fast through the hot dry section of the day. It was very rocky with tricky footing which made it a good introduction to the racing that we had in the week ahead.

Some of the stony ground we had to run through (Source: Joel Meredith)

More rocky ground that made for difficult footing (Source: Joel Meredith)

At about the 25km mark I was feeling good and pulled ahead of Bart. The next section of the stage led off from the flat river bed and into a climb that had 20m slopes on either side. This made it very difficult to see where the end of the climb would be. I maintained a strong run-walk pace and followed in the footsteps of the leaders which I could see in the sand in front of me.

In the final 8km we were climbing for more than half of it (Source: Eric Rohnacher)

I ran well and took most of my Go (Chilean energy drink) and gels during the race so I didn’t fade towards the end. It was a really beautiful stage with some climbs and a really long section on level ground that seemed to last forever. I was running by myself for about 20km out of the 33km and enjoyed it. At the end of the day I came in 4th.

Atacama Crossing - 9th overall (1st 20-29 age group)

This weekend I completed the Atacama Crossing. I came 9th overall and 1st in my age group, 20 to 29 years old.